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Failure is the Mother of Innovation

"Failure is our most important product. "
R.W. JOHNSON, FORMER CEO, JOHNSON & JOHNSON


It is amazing how many innovative and visionary companies have grown, not out of detailed strategic planning, but rather by trail and error. By stumbling onto a great opportunity by accident.

Johnson & Johnson started their business back in 1890 as a supplier of antiseptic gauze. Because of complaints that this gauze caused skin irritation with some patients, they started sending a small packet of Italian talc with their medicated plasters to apply to the skin. To their surprise, customers started asking to buy the talc directly. J&J responded by creating a separate product called "Johnson's Toilet and Baby Powder". And as they say in the classics, the rest is history!

In the 1940's J Willard Marriott was running a successful group of restaurants, and was opening up new restaurants across the country following a strategy that clearly worked. But then a strange thing started to happen at his restaurant located at Hoover Airport (now Reagan National) in Washington DC. Their customers were not behaving in the same way as customers at other restaurants. Many of the customers at this airport restaurant were buying meals and snacks, and stuffing them into pockets, paper bags and carry on luggage - and taking the food onto the plane with them. Marriott was smart enough to recognise the opportunity and within a short time, had negotiated a deal with the airlines to supply pre-packaged food to passengers on the tarmac. This service soon grew to other airports and became a major business for Marriott Corporation.

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras write about companies that "Try a lot of stuff and keep what works" in their book "Built to Last". As J&J, Marriott and many other successful companies have shown, growth is not driven purely by good strategy. Bill Hewlett of HP stated that he "never planned more than two of three years out". Companies follow an evolutionary process that allows them to grow through learning from what works and what does not work for them.

But, how do you formalize this "evolutionary process" to ensure that you DO learn from your mistakes, and that you do not miss opportunities that may be off your strategy radar? The answer is through making innovation part of your business.

You make innovation part of your business by having the your ear to the ground! This means having the capability to capture business intelligence, and then to review that information that may be off your strategy radar to find those variations in your business that will lead to opportunities that you may not have thought of. The greatest source of this information is your people! How are you tapping into this wealth of information, ideas, and creative energy; and then translating this into your business plan? Are you staying fresh and ahead of the competition, or are you sticking to what you have done in the past? How do you know what works and what does not work in your business?

Imagine what Marriott Corporation would look like today, if they had ignored what was happening at that one restaurant at the Hoover Airport way back in the 1940s!

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